Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, April 05, 2007

I'm afraid it is time for another episode of, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Today, during a story on JAG officers giving advice in combat situations, NPR's Ari Shapiro said that the members of the JAG Corps "operate under the mantra, "soldier first, lawyer always'". While that is a fine sentiment, (and one that reflects my personal beliefs about our glamor profession) it is not a "mantra". It might be a motto, or perhaps a credo, but it is not a "mystic syllable, word or verse used in meditation and japa to quiet the mind, balance the inner bodies and attain other desired aims", or "the sacred name of God given by the guru to the disciple". Mr. Shapiro's use of the word "mantra" in this way suggests something entirely different than what he thinks he means. He is trying to express the notion that the concept that underlies the phrase is deeply ingrained in the JAG officers, and is fundamental to the advice that they give to their commanders/clients. What he communicated was something more along the lines of the Cowardly Lion clutching his tail in the haunted forest, muttering, "I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do." Or, perhaps more accurately, an airport nuisance chanting "Hari Krishna, Hari, Hari". I call for a moratorium on the use of the word "mantra" outside of its use in religion or meditation. It is clear that using it metaphorically has diluted it of any meaning.

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